Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good
by William Easterly
United Kingdom Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown is eloquent about one of the two tragedies of the world’s poor. In January 2005, he gave a compassionate speech about the tragedy of the extreme poverty afflicting billions of people, with millions of children dying from easily preventable diseases. He called for a doubling of foreign aid, a Marshall Plan for the world’s poor, and an International Financing Facility (IFF) against which tens of billions more dollars toward future aid could be borrowed to rescue the poor today. He offered hope by pointing out how easy it is to do good.
Medicine that would prevent half of all malaria deaths costs only twelve cents a dose. A bed net to prevent a child from getting malaria costs only four dollars. Preventing five million child deaths over the next ten years would cost just three dollars for each new mother. An aid program top give cash to families who put their children into elementary school, would cost little.
Gordon Brown was silent about the other tragedy of the world’s poor. That is the tragedy in which the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to chi8ldren to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get6 four-dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion, and children are still carrying firewood instead of going to school. It’s a
tragedy that so much well-meaning compassion did not bring these results for needy people.
In a single day, on July16, 2005, the American and British economies delivered nine million copies of the sixth volume of the Harry Potter children’s book series to eager fans. Book retailers continually restocked the shelves as customers snatched up the book. Amazon and Barnes & Noble shipped prerecorded copies directly to customers’ homes. There was no Marshall Plan for harry potter, no International Financing Facility for books about underage wizards. It is heartbreaking that global society has evolved a highly efficient way to get entertainment to rich adults and children, while it cant’ get twelve-cent medicine to dying poor children.
This book is about that second tragedy. Visionaries, celebrities, presidents, chancellors of the exchequer, bureaucracies, and even armies address the first tragedy, and their compassion and hard work deserve admiration. Many fewer address the second tragedy. I feel like kind of a Scrooge pointing out the second tragedy when there is so much goodwill and compassion among so many people top help the poor. I speak to many audiences of goodhearted believers in the power of of Western Plans to help the poor,and I would so much like to believe them myself. I often fell like a sinful atheist who has somehow would up in the meeting of the conclaves of cardinals to choose the successor to the saintly John Paul II. Where there is a lot of consensus for Big Plans to help the poor, the audience receives my doubts about these plans about as well as the cardinals would receive my nomination of the pop singer Madonna to be the next Pope.
But I and other like-minded people keep trying, not to abandon aid to the poor, but to make sure it reaches them. Rich countries have to address the second tragedy if they are going to make any progress on the first tragedy. Otherwise, the current wave of enthusiasm for addressing world poverty will repeat the cycle of its predecessors:
idealism, high expectations, disappointing results, cynical backlash.
The second tragedy is due to the mistaken approach that traditional Western assistance takes toward world poverty. So has this book finally found, after all these years, the right Big Plan to reform foreign aid, to enrich the poor, to feed the hungry, and to save the dying? What a breakthrough if I have found such a plan when so many other, much smarter, people than I have tried many different plans over fifty years, and have failed.
You can relax; your author has no such delusions of grandeur. All the hoopla about having the right plan is itself a symptom of the misdirected approach to foreign aid taken by so many ion the past and so many still today.
The right plan is to have no plan.
The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly
For more reading
In many ways I see an overlap to what Easterly has written to describe the West’s efforts to aid the poor and to the West’s efforts to reach the unreached millions with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jeff Gilbertson